Information about reducing OAB symptoms and improving your quality of life

Control Your Weight

Carrying excess pounds puts chronic stress on pelvic floor muscles, weakening them and upping your risk for overactive bladder and other bladder control issues. Plus, "being overweight can make symptoms worse," says Linda Brubaker, M.D., director of the division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Loyola University Health System.

Fortunately, research shows that even modest weight loss can improve incontinence. When overweight women (a Body Mass Index—which uses the relationship between height and weight to determine proper weight—of at least 25) followed a low-calorie diet plan for six months and shed about 17 pounds as a result, they had an almost 50 percent drop in incontinence episodes, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. (The control group had a 28 percent decline.)

In addition, research from the University of California, San Francisco, found that overweight women who lost 5 percent or more of their body weight were able to slash the frequency of their incontinence episodes by half.

Kick Your Smoking Habit

"There's plenty of research out there connecting cigarettes to incontinence," says Diane K. Newman, C.R.N.P., co-director of the Penn Center for Continence and Pelvic Health at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. "While the reasons aren't entirely clear, we know that chronic coughing due to smoking exerts pressure on the bladder that can worsen symptoms and the nicotine in cigarettes may irritate the bladder, inducing spasms." (Moreover, there's a clear association between smoking and bladder cancer.)

To succeed at ditching the nicotine, experts contend that you'll likely need to use a combination of these stop-smoking strategies to reduce cravings:

  • Nicotine replacement gum
  • Inhalers
  • Patches
  • Sprays
  • Lozenges

This seems to work best in people with a high level of physical dependency.

Anti-smoking medications, such as varenicline and the antidepressant bupropion, work by blocking the pleasant feelings that nicotine produces in the brain. Medication can double your rate of successfully quitting, and limits weight gain often associated with dropping the smoking habit.

Steer clear of people who encourage you to light up and places where you are tempted to smoke. Substitute sugarless gum or raw vegetables like carrot sticks for cigarettes or chew on a coffee stirrer or straw.

Call an understanding friend, seek out a smoking cessation program or use a quit-line. You can talk to a smoking-cessation counselor by calling 877.448.7848.

Change Your Bathroom Routine

If you have overactive bladder—or want to avoid developing it—several toileting strategies can help you feel dryer and more secure. Try these tips from the National Association for Continence:

  • Skip the squat Sit down comfortably on the toilet seat rather than hovering above it. This makes your pelvic floor muscles more fully relaxed, letting the urethral sphincter open for better flow.
  • Take your time Stay on the toilet until your bladder feels empty. If you suspect there's more urine in your bladder, stand up, sit back down again and lean forward over your knees slightly. This may help usher out the rest of the urine.
  • Walk, don't run Rushing can actually increase the chance of an accident. "When someone is running or walking too quickly, it puts pressure on the bladder, further increasing the chance of urine loss," Dr. Brubaker says.
  • Know where the toilets are If you find you need to go during a trip, don't try to wait until you reach your destination. Map out public toilets along the way in advance of travel.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 17 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 06 Feb 2015